At the end of a recent visit to Deborah Rudacille’s journalism class at UMBC, an hour of sharing some Terkel-esque tricks to find extraordinary narrative in the lives of seemingly ordinary people, I threw out a four-word challenge.
“Who wants an assignment?”
In a room of about 20 young people, three hands shot up – eager aspirants on the literary trigger - and I acknowledged each of them: you, you and you.
Here’s what they got and hopefully what you will soon be reading here on the Alvarez Book Page: an emotional response to the fiction of Roberto Bolano, a feature on floral superstar Ellen Frost and an obituary on the recently deceased Baltimore poet Chris Toll.
Toll’s death on Thursday, September 27, 2012 was announced to the poetry community by his longtime friend and colleague David Beaudouin in a Facebook posting.
“He carried the torch brilliantly for poetry in our fair burg,” wrote Beaudouin. “… promoting and publishing other poets, editing lit mags, sponsoring countless readings, and generally being the Guy Who Always Showed Up For Your Reading.”
Of his own work, Toll said in a 2011 interview with the journal Artichoke Haircut: “There is no answer; the question is everything.”
Toll now joins fellow Baltimore poets Joe Cardarelli, David “Footlong” Franks, Lucille Clifton, Barbara Simon and many others on the other side of this iambic veil.
When the assignments come back (trusting that all of them do, this is enterprise, nothing required) it is my hope that we learn something from the life of this audacious poet that, like his work, helps us get through tomorrow and the day after.
Watch this space.
A memorial service for Chris Toll will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1 at the Ruck Funeral Home, 1050 York Road in Towson.